- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Willie Smith didn’t dwell on how all 32 NFL teams snubbed him in last April’s draft. Chris Neild didn’t care that he was the penultimate player selected out of 254 league-wide.

Both simply were grateful for the opportunity the Washington Redskins gave them this summer, and they made the most of it by working their way onto the 53-man roster that was finalized Saturday.

Smith, an offensive tackle, entered training camp as a long shot considering he was not signed until late July. While all of the Redskins‘ draft picks received copies of the playbook from veterans, he was selling knives to make ends meet.

“When you’re undrafted, man, you just know you’ve got to outwork everybody else.” Smith said, sitting in front of his new locker at Redskins Park. “You’ve just got to work harder because you’re not going to get as many chances. When you do get an opportunity to get in there, you’ve really got to really give it your all.”

Smith was not always technically sound during practice and preseason games, but he is 6-foot-5 with a 34 1/2-inch reach, which is considered long. Coach Mike Shanahan mentioned Smith’s long arms when explaining why he made the team.

“I didn’t want to take the chance to put him out there [on waivers] and lose him,” Shanahan said.

Being tall does have its disadvantages for a lineman, though.

“Since you’re a taller guy, you’ve got to focus more on keeping your pads low as you come off the ball,” Smith said, referring to an area in which he wasn’t always sharp during the preseason.

Neild beat out veteran Anthony Bryant for the backup nose tackle spot.

His development was stunted because the lockout forced the cancellation of the offseason program. He still is adjusting to the Redskins‘ penetrating one-gap style up front after playing a two-gap approach in college at West Virginia, but he sufficiently progressed.

“Just making right reads,” Neild said when asked about how he has improved. “That’s something that’s kind of [overlooked] at the college level because sometimes you could just dominate your opponent.”

Neild’s work ethic set him apart from Bryant, as well.

“Guys have ability, but you’re never really sure what the mental makeup is,” Shanahan said. “You can see he’s mentally tough. He’s a student of the game. He works extremely hard. I think he’s got a chance to have a good future.”

There’s a strong chance Neild with be among the 46 active players for Sunday’s regular-season opener against the New York Giants.

The Redskins kept only six defensive linemen on the roster (they kept eight last season), and Shanahan said he might activate five. Neild is the only true backup nose tackle, so the Redskins likely will need him to rotate with starter Barry Cofield.

Switch doesn’t hurt Sellers

Mike Sellers’ chance of making the roster seemingly diminished at the outset of training camp when coaches moved him from fullback to tight end. Coaches don’t ask 11-year veterans to switch positions because they’re playing exceptionally well.

Sellers, however, made the roster as the backup fullback to Darrel Young and the fourth tight end.

“Mike helped himself by having the mindset to go in there and not be disappointed that DY was getting a shot to be the starting fullback,” Shanahan said. “Mike is a pretty strong guy mentally. It’s always tough when you get a little bit older to go and work as a third-, fourth-team tight end, being the first-team fullback. But he never wavered.

“He’s a guy that can help us in a number of different ways, and I appreciate how hard he’s been working.”

Sellers has not granted interviews since the first week of training camp.

New rules help shape roster

Shanahan’s decision to keep only two quarterbacks on the roster was partly based on the new rule this season that allows teams to activate 46 players on game day. In previous seasons, teams activated 45 players and designated an inactive player as their emergency third quarterback.

“This year with the 46, a lot of people, I think, will go with two quarterbacks, take the chance and go with that third player a specialist on special teams.,” Shanahan said.

On a related note, Shanahan said he is treating Brandon Banks as a return specialist and not a receiver because of his ailing knee. But Banks would have made the team regardless of the new rule, so it likely opened a roster spot for one of the Redskins‘ seven wide receivers.

“I thought [Banks] did such a great job on punt returns and kickoff returns it would be silly not to dress him on game day,” Shanahan said. “He’s a difference maker out there.”